Monday, June 5, 2017

Marijuana and the Law: A Joke

by Michael Grosso

The good news is that a movement to decriminalize cannabis for medical and for private purposes is sweeping the country.  However, the weed is still classified as a schedule 1 drug by the federal government, and is therefore illegal. That means that the state assumes the right to punish you, if in any way you break the weed laws, and there are still people serving life sentences for their infractions.   

A schedule 1 drug like marijuana is defined as having a high potential for abuse and has no known medical use.  The ominous Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has directed a task force to re-examine the policies for sentencing and incarcerating pot criminals. This is about privileging federal over state law, and as the directive states, is part of preparing to deal with violent crime.  Sessions conception of cannabis seems to derive from the 1936 camp classic, Reefer Madness.

The call for this State Department review of marijuana policies from Trump’s Attorney General is—like Trump himself—shot through with mendacity.  Marijuana--schedule 1?  High potential for abuse?  Like tobacco?  Last time I checked 480,000 Americans a year were dying from smoking-related illness, at a cost to the nation of $300 billion.  Is this what is meant by a “high potential for abuse”?

Or was anybody thinking of alcohol?  About 100,000 Americans die yearly from alcohol-related causes.  About 5 thousand of that number are teens, their alcoholic deaths exceeding those caused by all other drugs combined.  My question is: Why aren’t alcohol and tobacco schedule 1 drugs?  Hundreds of thousands of corpses turning up everywhere all the time—does that count as abuse?  And what of the countless thousands of family and friends who suffer the consequences of these drug-caused tragedies?

And of course to stay abreast: many thousands of innocent Americans of all ages, places and economic classes are losing their lives to the current killer opioid epidemic. Prescription drugs—OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Soma—are causing more deaths than heroine, cocaine, and other street drugs combined.

All these killer drugs are perfectly legal.  Needless to say, there is absolutely nothing remotely comparable that can be imputed to marijuana. But  marijuana is illegal. The situation is morally absurd and grotesque.

Another criterion for schedule 1 is that a drug not possess any medical benefits.  In fact, the medical benefits of marijuana are legion.  I know this is true from my own experience.  A colleague of mine at a university was suffering from the early stages of multiple sclerosis, and we discovered that his symptoms disappeared when we partook of the good weed together.  Later, this discovery was confirmed by published scientific reports. Besides reducing symptoms of MS, here is a list of other conditions that evidence indicates marijuana can benefit: pain, depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress-disorder, epilepsy, brain damage after stroke, prevention of formation of Alzheimer plaques, opioid and other addictions, anxiety, arthritis, glaucoma, and nausea.

The criminalization of cannabis is not just itself a crime; it throws into relief the worst kind of moral depravity.  A substance of versatile benefits is proscribed as illegal and used to feed the least powerful of society to an ever-voracious prison-industrial complex.  Meanwhile, killer recreational drugs like tobacco and alcohol and killer prescription drugs are not only legal but promoted by powerful lobbies and corporations. As Peter Gotzsche (an insider to the field) proves in overwhelming detail, big Pharma makes organized crime look like small potatoes.  The medical, pharmaceutical, and political systems have conspired with big Pharma to deceive, exploit, and, if Profit decrees, kill consumers (See Gotzsche’s massive indictment, Deadly Medicines and Organized Crime {2013}).

The hypocrisy and the stupidity of criminalizing one of the plant-wonders of nature is bad news. The good news is that America is waking up and one of the signs of this is a definite state-centered movement toward the emancipation of cannabis, not just for its various medical properties and potentials, but for its so-called “recreational” use. 

But what exactly does that mean?  There are two senses of the word; in one, it refers to activity apart from work done for enjoyment.

Okay, but that misses the point about the intelligent use of marijuana. There is an older sense of the word from late Middle English that should be underscored-- “mental or spiritual consolation”--from the Latin, recreare, “create again, renew.” The image of self re-creation seems more to the point.  I like to think of Mary-Jane as a goddess figure to invoke in the daily re-creation of myself, in my case, by making perception new and thought elastic.

The ignoramuses of the Justice Department who continue to criminalize cannabis should read Ronald Siegel’s Intoxication (1989). According to what Siegel found, in addition to hunger, thirst, and sex, “intoxication is the fourth drive.”  What may be surprising is that throughout nature animals of almost every kind search for, find, and enjoy substances with intoxicating effects.  Fascinating descriptions of birds, cats, cows, elephants, et cetera, getting stoned and disoriented clearly illustrate the author’s thesis. The whole of living nature seems driven toward transcendence—wants to escape its characteristic rut and get high—however risky and perhaps comical these efforts turn out to be.  

The task is learning how to negotiate the dangers while maximizing the benefits.  The problem is that everything is arranged in America to prevent that from happening.  The state has empowered big Pharma and criminalized marijuana.  It supports drug companies that make billions but kill their human consumers; meanwhile, it criminalizes a plant known for its medical and recreational benefits, and with nothing of the collateral human damage associated with the legal drug business. Let the motto for those who prefer life to death be: Cannabis yes we can.




1 comment:

Tim Swartz said...

More than likely, the desire to keep marijuana illegal is because there is considerable profit for various law enforcement agencies, local and state governments, and the whole "for profit" prison systems. In 2015, more than 600,000 people were arrested for marijuana violations, more than any other illicit drug. Civil forfeiture, where law enforcement officers can seize assets from persons suspected of marijuana activity, is very popular with law enforcement for obvious reasons. In recent years, the Federal Government has netted at least one billion dollars from seizing personal and real property suspected of being used for/to manufacture or distribute Federally illegal drugs. This includes marijuana in states where marijuana is legal. A person doesn't have to be arrested or convicted of possession of marijuana, the mere "suspicion" of illegal activity is enough for the police to petition for seizure of property and/or assets. It is all about the mighty dollar.

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